Inclusive education and distributed leadership : a qualitative research study of primary schools in New South Wales (Australia) and Slovakia

Doctoral Studies Completed Theses – 2014 Archive

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Jozef Miskolci

PhD thesis, conferred 2014

This thesis explores how research participants perceive and understand the concepts of inclusive education, distributed leadership and their relationship in practice in two public primary schools: one in New South Wales (Australia) and one in Slovakia. These two schools were identified by external informants as good practice examples of inclusive education. To explore participants’ understanding of these concepts, their relationship and how they manifest in practice in the two schools, the study used qualitative research methods based on interviews and group discussions collected through ethnographic procedures.

The thesis scrutinises the research problem of whether practising distributed leadership in any way hinders, assists or is irrelevant to practices of inclusive education in the two schools through two theoretical paradigms: organisational and socio-political. When looking through the prism of the organisational paradigm, the thesis exposes two main understandings of inclusive education, distributed leadership and their relationship, which offer two different answers to the research problem of this thesis. In the first understanding, practising distributed leadership principally neither assists nor hinders achieving goals of inclusive education. The concept of inclusive education is narrowly seen as a set of goals that target students exclusively, and not adult school stakeholders, while distributed leadership is only seen as a set of processes with no specific goal. In the second understanding, distributed leadership is constructed as an indispensable component of inclusive education. This understanding broadens the target group of inclusive education from exclusively students to all school stakeholders, and extends distributed leadership beyond its narrow frame of only including processes to also encompass democratic goals and inclusive values as well. The thesis exposes that both perspectives are held in the researched schools, which may influence how inclusive education and distributed leadership are practised across the sites.

In contrast, when looking through the prism of the socio-political paradigm, the thesis reveals that research participants presented a limited understanding of inclusion, while positioning the main problem either in individual children or schools as organisations. This thesis discusses particular wider social and political conditions or contexts of the two researched primary schools which may significantly constrain and shape their practices of inclusion and distributed leadership and also how these practices relate to each other.

Supervisor: Emeritus Professor Derrick Armstrong